Alex Smith & The Read Option

Playing quarterback in the NFL is never as easy as it looks. Alex Smith, once the #1 overall pick, spent his years in San Francisco as a disappointment, but since relocating to Kansas City he has rejuvenated his career. Taking a page out of his college playbook Sunday, Smith ran the read-option to perfection and found paydirt against the Buffalo Bills.


Before he became a household name, Urban Meyer was an up-and-coming coaching commodity at the University of Utah relying on Alex Smith as his signal caller. Smith led Meyer’s Utes to a 21-1 record during his college career, capped off by a victory in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl and a national top-five finish. The quarterback excelled in Meyer’s spread offense and made a number of plays with his feet in the read-option scheme.

The 49ers made Smith the first overall selection in the 2005 NFL Draft. Over the next seven seasons he developed a reputation as a frustrating, limited “game manager”. He enjoyed a brief renaissance under the tutelage of head coach and former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh, but his career in San Francisco ended in 2012 when he sustained a concussion and was replaced by phenom Colin Kaepernick. The Niners traded Smith to Kansas City in 2013, and he enjoyed one of his best professional seasons, garnering his first Pro Bowl selection under head coach Andy Reid.

Smith has continued his solid play this season, and on Sunday the 5-3 Chiefs traveled to Orchard Park to face the Buffalo Bills in a critical Week 9 game for both teams. In this sequence, Kansas City trails by 3 with 9:08 remaining in the 4th quarter. Smith is in the shotgun, with his offense using 11 personnel with trips on the right side of the formation against a base 4-3 defense:

Off the snap, the trips receivers simulate a wide receiver screen to that side. This draws the attention of Preston Brown, Buffalo’s rookie weak-side linebacker, who moves a few steps in that direction. However, the action is to the other side of the field and Brown does exactly what Reid and Smith hoped he would ‒ make himself a non-factor.

The Kansas City offense runs the read-option on this play, with Smith executing a ball fake to running back Jamaal Charles. Simultaneously, Smith is staring at onrushing defensive end Manny Lawson (circled in black). The potential handoff has also piqued the interest of strong-side linebacker Nigel Bradham (circled in blue), who breaks forward:

Lawson commits to Charles ‒ and the play fake ‒ but Smith still has the ball:

The fake has lured both Bradham and Lawson out of position, but cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Aaron Williams are not fooled. The safety has an angle to make a play on Smith:

Tight end Anthony Fasano executes a terrific block on Gilmore, but Williams is untouched and still has a clear route to the QB:

However, Smith has one more trick up his sleeve and he channels his inner Christian Okoye:

The QB lowers his shoulders and bowls into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. The film demonstrates how the fake screen and the fake handoff combine to lure defenders out of position, creating a path to the goal line for Smith.

Do not ignore the importance of the fakes. If Lawson stays home, Charles will take the handoff heading to the weak side. The fake screen draws Brown out of position, taking him completely out of the play:

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The well-designed and well-executed misdirection helped the Chiefs emerge victorious on this day. The win propelled Kansas City ahead of San Diego in the AFC West standings, allowing them to remain one game behind Denver in the division. For Alex Smith it marked a return to his collegiate roots, and the veteran delivered when his team needed a positive result in the red zone.

All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

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